Nineteen New England Patriots players are set to hit free agency when the NFL league year opens March 18. As that date approaches, we’re taking a closer look at each one.
Up next: defensive tackle Danny Shelton.
2019 STATS: 61 tackles, three sacks, two tackles for loss, six QB hits, one forced fumble in 16 games
LIKELIHOOD OF RETURN: Moderate
ANALYSIS: What a difference a year makes.
After a 2018 season that included a humbling streak of healthy scratches, Shelton languished in free agency for two months before ultimately re-signing with the Patriots on a one-year, $1 million deal. It shouldn’t take the big man nearly as long to land his next contract, and this one likely will be far more lucrative.
Shelton was a surprise standout for the 2019 Patriots, enjoying arguably the best season of his NFL career. The 2015 first-round draft pick played in every game for New England, set a new career high in tackles and provided some unexpected production as a pass rusher.
Always known for his work as a run-stuffer, Shelton had totaled just 1 1/2 sacks over his first four pro seasons. He had twice that this season and posted the fourth-highest Pro Football Focus pass-rushing grade of any Patriots defender.
Pro-Football-Reference’s advanced metrics also were kind to the 345-pounder. Shelton’s Approximate Value (a stat aimed at measuring a player’s overall performance) of 12 doubled his previous career high and represented a 10-point jump from 2018.
What will all of this mean for Shelton’s market? We’ll get a better sense of that once the legal tampering period begins next Monday, but it’s safe to assume the 26-year-old — who recently hired superagent Drew Rosenhaus to represent him — is in line for a significant raise. Spotrac’s market value analysis projects he’ll land a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $14 million.
Regardless of whether Shelton stays or leaves, bolstering their defensive tackle depth should be on the Patriots’ offseason to-do list. Other impending free agents at the position include Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, D.J. Reader, Mike Daniels, Jordan Phillips, Javon Hargrave, Michael Brockers, Leonard Williams and Michael Pierce.
New England has Lawrence Guy under contract for one more season. Pass-rush specialist Adam Butler will be a restricted free agent.